Buena Vista Social Club: Adios

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Buena Vista Social Club: Adios Movie Poster Image
Emotional, crowd-pleasing sequel to popular documentary.
  • PG
  • 2017
  • 110 minutes

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Positive Messages

Positive messages include celebrating older musicians, encouraging intergenerational arts, representing diverse and older artists, and more. Themes also include teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All of these older musicians prove that people still have much to contribute to society -- and to art -- late in life. They've all overcome adversity, poverty, and institutional racism. Compay Segundo lived to 95 and could perform nearly until his death. Ibrahim Ferrer is grateful for finally being successful, even though it happened in his 70s and not his 20s like he had hoped. Omara Portuondo and the other surviving members still perform and want to spread Cuban son music with the world.


Footage of Fidel Castro and other soldiers during the Cuban revolution. Discussion of racial inequality and oppression in Cuban history.


Some of the songs and musical asides have sexual lyrics like "I know he will give it to you hard and delicious" or the song "Chan Chan," which is about a couple who goes to the beach, where she shakes the sand, which arouses him. But not all viewers will pick up on the songs' sexual overtones.


Rare (subtitled) insults/iffy words said in jest include "damn," "stupid," and "idiot."


Footage of a Winston cigarettes commercial, with the jingle sung in Spanish. One quick scene shows Cuban Americans using a MacBook and iPhones/iPods.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults occasionally drink, particularly toasts of champagne and hard liquor to celebrate. Historical footage shows cigar/cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Buena Vista Social Club: Adios is a mostly Spanish-language (with English subtitles) documentary by filmmaker Lucy Walker. It serves as a sequel to Wim Wenders' award-winning 199 documentary Buena Vista Social Club, which introduced audiences to a group of elderly Cuban musicians who got together to record an album and tour together. Walker's update fills in the two decades since the unexpected success of the original movie. It doesn't shy away from sad or upsetting material -- like discussion of race, poverty, depression, and death. There's occasional footage from the Cuban revolution, of the musicians drinking and smoking cigars and cigarettes, and, later in the film, of several musicians' funerals and tombstones. Some song lyrics allude to sex, but many will likely go over most kids' head. The film celebrates diversity, artistry, teamwork, the musicians' lifelong achievements, and the power of music.

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What's the story?

BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB: ADIOS is director Lucy Walker's sequel to Wim Wenders' award-winning 1999 documentary Buena Vista Social Club. It picks up the story of the elderly, predominantly Afro-Cuban son music legends who joined forces under the guidance of world music producer Nick Gold, Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos, and legendary guitarist Ry Cooder. The new film follows what happened to the musicians after the album and Wenders' documentary. It also chronicles the final years (and final tours) of newly successful musicians like singer-guitarist-composer Compay Segundo, who's a nonagenarian; singer Ibrahim Ferrer, who was a shoe-shiner in his 70s and thought he'd given up music for good; Omara Portuondo, who'd been singing since she was a teen; and other BVSC members, many of whom have died since the original film was completed.

Is it any good?

This touching sequel may not be as breathtakingly original as Wenders' original documentary, but it's still a worthy follow up that revisits the beloved musicians. Walker uses some of the footage from the original Buena Vista Social Club as well as new, original interviews and content to show how the BVSC musicians fared after the unexpected commercial and critical success of both the album and the first film. It offers compelling behind-the-scenes information about these elderly Cuban musicians, who were utterly surprised to experience the international fanfare they received. Although slightly longer than necessary, Buena Vista Social Club: Adios takes its title seriously; not only is it the name of the group's farewell tour, but it's a literal goodbye and tribute to the several members who've died since the 1999 film.

The historical footage of how the mostly black musicians were impacted by Cuba's institutional racism and the Cuban revolution is both informative and heartbreaking. Then the movie fast forwards to focus on the 70- to 90-something-old musicians, who are pleasantly surprised by becoming so well known outside of their Caribbean island at a time in their lives when they thought they were basically limited to fellow Cuban fans -- or, in the case of Ibrahim, done with music altogether. The new movie tugs on viewers' heartstrings with the details of the musicians' final years and performances. But it feels appropriate to see how Compay, Ibrahim, and pianist Ruben Gonzalez were able to perform until the very end, fulfilling what Compay calls poet Jose Marti's tenets of an accomplished life: planting a seed, having a child, and creating/writing something that will outlast death.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the historical lessons in Buena Vista Social Club: Adios. What did you learn about the history of Cuba, son music, racism in Cuba, and the other topics it addresses? How could you find out more?

  • Why do you think it's unusual for documentaries and other films to feature/follow elderly characters or people?

  • How does the movie show the value of teamwork? Why is that an important character strength?

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